Microsoft Hypes Hyper-V, Launches App Virtualization and Anti-Rootkit Tools

Viridian becomes Hyper-V, and you can buy it separately for $28. SoftGrid becomes Microsoft Application Virtualization, and you can't buy it at any price.

November 13, 2007

3 Min Read
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Microsoft made two significant virtualization announcements today: that its hypervisor will be a separate product rather than a feature of Windows Server 2008, and that the next version of its application virtualization product is nowin beta. Both have also been given more generic names. The hypervisor changes from Viridian (named after a planet in Star Trek) to Hyper-V, while app virtualization changes from SoftGrid to Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5.

Microsoft has spent two years touting the hypervisor as an integral par of Windows Server, so the change is significant. The pricing is even more interesting: Hyper-V Server will cost only $28, whereas the Windows Server 2008 that runs on top of it (or without it) starts at $971 for the Standard Edition. Microsoft also sells them as a package, but there are no discounts for buying both together. That will cost you $999, the same as Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition. Higher-end editions of Server 2008 without Hyper-V are also priced at exactly $28 less than the comparable Server 2003 editions.

So why unbundle Hyper-V from Server 2008? Microsoft says it's about customer choice. That makes some sense, especially if the customers are makers of virtual appliances. The $28 is retail, so appliance makers will pay a lot less thanks to volume and OEM discounts.

But it may also be a pre-emptive move against anti-trust complaints. VMWare can still complain about predatory pricing, but open-source gives Microsoft a clear defense: $28 looks almost extortionate when you can download Xen for $0.

Of course, VMWare isn't competing with the free version of Xen. Its competing with Citrix, VirtualIron and now Oracle, all of whom layer management software on top of the hypervisor. It remains to be seen how Microsoft's tools will compare to all these.On the desktop side, Application Virtualization 4.5 adds two important features that Microsoft calls 'standalone delivery and dynamic virtualization. Standalone delivery means that virtualized apps can don't need to be streamed. They can be distributed on CD or USB drive, helping Microsoft compete with Thinstall. Dynamic virtualization means that packaged virtual apps can invoke and share data with each other, saving on overhead.

For example, a company that has developed multiple apps on top of Microsoft Access could virtualize them all separately and have them call a virtualized instance of Access. Previously, Access needed to be included in the virtualization package for each app developed on top of it. This could use a lot less memory space and bandwidth, but risks restoring some of the complexity that app virtualization is designed to overcome.

Application Virtualization is sold (or rather, rented) only as part of what Microsoft calls the Desktop Optimization Pack, which also includes four other management tools. Two of them also got beta upgrades today, while Microsoft released a fifth, the software inventory agent.

Intended for PCs that can't boot into XP or Vista, the DaRT (Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset) offers access to the registry and BitLocker encrypted data, while the Standalone Security Sweeper is an anti-malware utility. Because it runs outside the OS, it ought to be better than most anti-virus utilities at detecting rootkits. The inventory agent differs from the others in that it uses a hosted service (rather than a local server), tracking software installed on PCs. Microsoft says that it is committed to customer privacy so will not use information gathered by the service for license enforcement.

The Pack costs $10 per user per year, which at first glance looks an even better bargain (or worse predatory pricing) than Hyper-V. But there's a big catch: It's only available through Software Assurance, Microsoft's maintenance program, requiring an SA contract (for XP Pro / Vista Enterprise) on every machine that uses it. So rather than undercutting virtualization competitors, it's probably aimed at driving Windows customers to Microsoft's version of SaaS.0

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